Category: <span>Anxiety</span>

3 Breathing Exercises to help reduce Stress, Anxiety and Anger.

The following are three breathing exercises that I teach clients to use in order to feel calmer. You can use these exercises whenever you feel irritable to avoid getting angry or feeling anxious. I recommended that you practice these exercises several times throughout the day, every day, for a minimum of 30 seconds, in order to build them as a habit.

Breathing Exercises

Inhale for 5 seconds.
Exhale for 6-7 seconds.
When you exhale, tighten your abs and squeeze the air out, as if you’re blowing out candles.

4-7-8 Breathing

Inhale for 4 seconds.
Hold your breath for 7 seconds. Exhale for 8 seconds.

Left Nostril Breathing

Close off your right nostril and only breath in and out through your left nostril for at least 60 seconds.

Our breath is very powerful. It’s so important that it’s the first thing that changes depending on how we’re feeling. It’s also so simple that it’s often overlooked. Pay attention to your breath and how it changes throughout the day.


Different Types of Anxiety Disorders

Feeling anxious is actually normal. Everyone experiences anxiety. You  don’t want to completely get rid of it because it’s a way our body protects us from danger, plus you really can’t “get rid” of it either. But when feeling nervous stops you from working, doesn’t allow you to stay still long enough to focus, and/or causes problems in your relationships, you have a problem with anxiety.

Normal Anxiety.

Physically, you can feel shaky, get butterflies in your stomach, have sweaty hands, your heart speeds up, difficulty breathing, and you might get a little light headed.

Emotionally, you worry, feel irritable, is hard to stay still, have trouble falling or staying asleep and anticipate something going wrong.

This usually happens when you’re doing something out of the normal. It could be the first day of work or school, going on a date, going somewhere new, talking in front of people or taking a test. Basically there’s a reason to be nervous. Even professional public speakers and athletes get nervous before  performing, this is completely normal.

Also, when we go through tough times or major changes in life, like loosing a job, a break up,  death of a loved one, getting a medical diagnosis or moving to a new place,  it’s normal to feel anxiety.

But when these symptoms don’t seem to go away even after the event ended, or when there’s no reason to feel nervous, this is a sign of something more serious.  The following are different types of anxiety disorders. Remember, only a licensed professional can give you a diagnosis.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Generalized anxiety disorder is chronic, exaggerated worry about everyday life. You waste a lot of time  and mental energy just worrying about different random things that most likely will never happen. It’s very difficult to control these negative thoughts.

Social Anxiety Disorder

Feeling intense fear in everyday social interactions. Being around a lot of people causes irrational fears (such as being afraid that you’d do something wrong and feel embarrassed) The intense fear can trigger a panic attack.

Panic Disorder

Feeling sudden and intense fear.  Physical symptoms include chest pain, heart racing, feeling dizzy, shortness of breath and upset stomach. Many people will go to desperate measures to avoid having an attack, including avoiding going to certain places. Panic attacks can be painful and some people think they’re having a heart attack. Here’s my post on the difference between a heart attack and a panic attack.


Agoraphobia is a fear of being outside or otherwise being in a situation from which one either can’t escape or from which escaping would be difficult or humiliating. Being in these situations causes panic attacks.


A phobia is when certain places, events or objects create intense fear or panic. In order to avoid panic, a person will do anything to avoid getting triggered. The attempt to control this fear can take over someones life.

There are over 100 different types of phobias.

Separation Anxiety

More common in young children and after a traumatic event. This is a severe form of clinginess to someone they feel safe with.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD is an anxiety disorder where someone experiences extreme anxiety, flashbacks, nightmares, and other symptoms of anxiety after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event.

Selective mutism (when someone stops talking, usually in children and when someone is in shock) and  Trichotillomania (hair pulling) are ways to cope with severe forms of anxiety.


All of these disorders can be treated effectively with psychotherapy. When symptoms are too difficult to handle, medication could help.

About the author.

Liza J Alvarado is a professional counselor in private practice. She serves Adolescents, adults, and Spanish speaking families in the Lehigh Valley, PA area.



Am I having a Panic or Heart Attack?

Panic and heart attacks can both have similar symptoms. Intense chest pain, sweating, tingling feeling. However, knowing the symptoms of both could help save your life, since many people who are having a heart attack think they’re actually having a panic attack, and don’t get the help they need.

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms but are not sure if you’re having a panic or heart attack, go to the nearest emergency room.

Symptoms of a Heart Attack

  • Chest pain as “crushing” Usually starts in the middle of the chest and may travel down the left arm and on to the back.
  • Pain may extend to the neck and jaw
  • Tingling feeling is usually only on the left arm
  • Sometimes break out in a cold sweat and even start to vomit
  • Usually there is no hyperventilating, unless the heart attack triggers a panic attack.

If you have these symptoms for over 5 minutes, go to the Emergency Room.

Symptoms of a Panic Attack

  • Heart racing without doing anything physical that would make it speed up.
  • Feeling pressure in the chest
  • It’s hard to breath
  • Hyperventilating (breathing hard as if you just ran up a flight of stairs)
  • Dizziness
  • numbness or tingling feeling in the arms and legs.
  • getting chills
  • Nausea
  • Hot flashes
  • tightness in the throat
  • difficulty swallowing
  • feeling afraid

Many times panic attacks seem to come out of nowhere. Panic attacks usually last for 10 minutes. But they can last up to 30 minutes. Rarely do they last an hour. Symptoms may be different in some people. Regardless, you should get medical help because there are many treatments to stop these panics.

In the moment of feeling panicky, there are some suggestions to relieve the pain.

  • Acknowledge that something is not right. DON’T ignore how you’re feeling and continue to do whatever you’re doing. Stop what you’re doing or sit away from people if you’re in a public place.
  • Hold your breath for as long as you can. The feeling of not having enough air when you hyperventilate in not caused by not breathing in enough air, it’s breathing out too much air. Holding in your breath will help prevent the dissipation of carbon dioxide. (We breath in more oxygen and some carbon dioxide. When we exhale, we breath out less oxygen but more carbon dioxide.)
  • Take short, deep breaths and slowly make them longer. For example, BREATH IN FOR 2 SECONDS LONG, BREATH OUT FOR 2 SECONDS LONG, REPEAT 2-3 TIMES. THEN BREATH IN FOR 3 SECONDS LONG, BREATH OUT FOR 3 SECONDS LONG, REPEAT 2-3 TIMES. THEN BREATH IN FOR 4 SECONDS LONG, BREATH OUT FOR 4 SECONDS. Try to go keep going until you can breath in and out for 8 seconds. Focusing on counting in your head will help your mind slow down.
  • Drink plenty of water afterwards.

If you experience frequent panic attacks, getting counseling could help uncover why you’re having them in the first place. Learning what your triggers are could also help you prevent them from happening.


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About the author.

Liza J Alvarado is a professional counselor in private practice. She serves Adolescents, young adults, and Spanish speaking families in Lehigh Valley, PA.



Simple Activities To Boost “Happiness Chemicals”

How we feel in life basically has to do with our  “brain chemicals” These chemicals are called neurotransmitters. Although we don’t have a way to measure how much you have when giving diagnosis, scientist do know that certain chemicals create specific feelings. Sadness, anxiety, excitement…all these feelings are produced by neurotransmitters.

How much or how little of these chemicals are produced depends on a lot of different things. Genetics, environment, past experiences, and diet to name a few.

The good news is that we can do things, on purpose, to help our body out in creating some of these chemicals. Try to do at least one of the following suggestions, everyday.

Eat organic yogurt. We’re talking about “brain chemicals” but the truth is that most of these hormones are in the lining of our stomach. The health of our stomach greatly affects our mood. Think about it. When you have  a “bad” feeling, or feel nervous, what part of your body do you feel it most? It’s usually the stomach.

Probiotics and prebiotics help keep our gut healthy. Drink plenty of water and eat foods rich in fiber to keep your gut healthy.

Give or get a hug. When you give a long hug to someone that you really care about, and you get that warm loving feeling, the neurotransmitter oxytocin is released. Basically, physically intimate moments releases this hormone. This chemical calms down the amygdala, the part of our brain that acts like an alarm when we think we’re in danger. Oxytocin has been called the “bonding hormone”  or “love hormone” because it makes you feel closer to people.

For women, oxytocin helps in contractions when giving birth and it’s released during breast feeding.

Shock yourself with cold water. Either splash your face with cold water if you’re at school or work, or turn the water to cold at the end of your shower. The cold water stimulates the vagus nerve, a nerve that goes from our head all the way down to the gut. It helps regulate a bunch of bodily functions like the heart, lungs, upper digestive tract, and other organs of the chest and abdomen.

Reminisce about happy times. Remembering happy memories helps increase serotonin. Serotonin does a bunch of things like helping neurons communicate with each other, improve memory, and most popularly known for increasing our mood. Anti-depressants (SSRI, which stands for Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor) is supposed to help our brain “lock in” the serotonin that we already have by preventing it from “fading away” (This is my explanation of it, not the scientific explanation.)

Watch a comedy. There’s a reason for the saying “laughter is the best medicine”. I completely agree with this. When we laugh we release several hormones responsible for releasing stress and tension and making us feel good, including serotonin, dopamine and endorphins.

Create small, challenging goals for yourself. Remember when you finished up a presentation you worked hard to prepare for, graduated from school after all those years, or completed a challenge you set for yourself? That small rush of pleasure was your brain releasing dopamine, the chemical responsible for reward and pleasure.

Try setting goals that challenge you in some way. It could be something as simple as cleaning up a messy room, or bigger goals like getting a new job, or getting fit.

Write down how you feel. Writing doesn’t necessarily release hormones, but it does calm down the mind. You could journal, or write short stories. A study done at the University of California, Los Angeles, showed that writing calms down amygdala activity. As I said before, the amygdala is the part of our brain that acts like an alarm when it thinks we’re in danger. Our brain can’t tell if something is real or you’re imagining it. That’s why just thinking about certain things will cause you to feel stressed and activates the amygdala.

None of us can feel happy all of the time. But staying positive and healthy will help you feel more satisfied with your life. And when you feel satisfied with your life, everyone around you benefits.

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About the author.

Liza J Alvarado is a professional counselor in private practice. She serves Adolescents, young adults, and Spanish speaking families in Lehigh Valley, PA.






3 Techniques to Cope with Anxiety

Feeling anxious is a normal thing. We all feel nervous and worried at times. But when it affects you to the point where you have a hard time focusing, you can’t be around people, or it starts causing health problems, now you need to do something about it. Here are 3 fast ways to better cope with feelings of anxiety.

Ground yourself This is one of the most effective techniques to stop feeling anxious on the spot. When you feel anxious, it means that you’re thinking about something that hasn’t happened yet. Basically, making up scenarios in your head. Grounding forces you to bring your thoughts into the present. What you do is this… Name 5 things you can see right now, 4 things you can feel right now (like your pants), 3 sounds that you hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste. Depending on where you are, you might not use all of the 5 senses, but you want to use as many as you can. Again, this forces you to pay attention to the present, and not to something that hasn’t even happened yet.

Count your breaths Similar to grounding, it forces you to pay attention to the now. This is also a great exercise to help you sleep. There are different ways to do this. But one way is to take a deep breath in for 5 seconds long, and then breath out for 5 seconds long. If you’re really stressed, it’ll be hard at first to breath in for that long, but try to slowly increase it to 5 seconds. Then increase it to 6, and 7 seconds long. The counting in your head will help you stop thinking of anything else, and the deep breathing relaxes your body.

Turn your worry into a question Part of feeling anxious is that we are worried about something that hasn’t happened yet. And for some reason, we tend to think worse case scenarios. Because we don’t know what’s going to happen, we feel like we have no control. So turn your worry into a question. For example, instead of thinking “I’m going to fail the test,” ask yourself, “how can I better prepare for the test?’ Ask yourself how you can decrease the bad thing from happening, or how you can face the challenge. When you turn something into a question, you jump into problem solving mode, giving you a sense of control. One of the best ways to get rid of worry, is to turn it into a problem to solve. After you brainstorm some ways to solve the problem, take action.

Try practicing these three exercises when you notice yourself starting to get anxious. There are many different ways to deal with symptoms of Anxiety but you have to find what works for you.

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If you would like to get more detailed explanation on how to control Anxiety and Panic attacks, check out this online course here.

About the author.

Liza J Alvarado is a professional counselor in private practice. She serves Adolescents, young adults, and Spanish speaking families in Lehigh Valley, PA.


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